September 26

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (September 20, 1773).

“The Royal American Magazine is likely in a short Time to make its Appearance.”

Throughout September 1773, Isaiah Thomas, printer of the Massachusetts Spy, continued marketing the Royal American Magazine.  He hoped to attract enough subscribers to make the publication a viable venture.  Although printers from New Hampshire to Georgia supplied colonizers with more than two dozen newspapers, including five printed in Boston, none of them published a magazine.  Instead, printers, booksellers, and shopkeepers imported magazines from England.  Realizing that he likely needed subscribers from beyond Massachusetts if he wished to take the magazine to press, Thomas advertised in several colonies.

In the first half of September, Thomas ran the proposals for the Royal American Magazine six more times, inserting them in four newspapers in two colonies.  The proposals appeared for the first time in the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven, on September 3 and in the Pennsylvania Journal, published in Philadelphia, on September 8. By the end of the month, they had their second and third insertions in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, and the New-London Gazette.  The proposals may have run again in the Connecticut Journal on September 17 and 24.  Those issues are not available via America’s Historical Newspapers.  While Thomas may have sent subscription papers in the form of broadsides, handbills, or pamphlets to local agents in other colonies, he did not arrange to have the proposals printed in newspapers south of Pennsylvania.  The proposals did state that “the printers and booksellers in Americas” accepted subscriptions.

Starting on September 9, Thomas circulated an update, a much shorter notice that first appeared in the Massachusetts Spy and then in other newspapers published in Boston.  This announcement, addressed “To the PUBLIC,” advised readers that the magazine “is likely in a short Time to make its Appearance” as a result of the “generous Encouragement of a great Number of Gentlemen in this Province.”  Thomas requested that “those Gentlemen and Ladies, who incline to be Promoters of this useful Undertaking” submit their names “with all convenient Speed” because he planned to commenced publication “as soon as he hears what Numbers of Subscribers there are in the other Colonies.”  Subscribers did not need to send any payment “until the delivery of the first Number.”  Thomas published and distributed the first issue of the Royal American Magazine in January 1774.

The printer devised an extensive advertising campaign in preparation of launching the magazine, coordinating newspaper advertisements in several colonies and corresponding with printers and other local agents.  Other printers pursued similar strategies when they set about new projects, using subscription proposals to incite demand.  Those advertisements simultaneously served as market research, informing printers whether they should take a project to press and, if so, how many copies to produce.


Subscription Proposals

  • September 3 – Connecticut Journal (first appearance)
  • September 3 – New-London Gazette (second appearance)
  • September 7 – Connecticut Courant (second appearance)
  • September 8 – Pennsylvania Journal (first appearance)
  • September 10 – New-London Gazette (third appearance)
  • September 14 – Connecticut Courant (third appearance)
  • September 17 – possible second appearance in Connecticut Journal
  • September 24 – possible third appearance in Connecticut Journal

To the PUBLIC” Update

  • September 9 – Massachusetts Spy (first appearance)
  • September 13 – Boston Evening-Post (first appearance)
  • September 13 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (first appearance)
  • September 16 – Massachusetts Spy (second appearance)
  • September 20 – Boston-Gazette (first appearance)
  • September 20 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (second appearance)
  • September 27 – Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (second appearance)
  • September 27 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (third appearance)

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